Friday, October 31, 2008

Delos and Mykonos

I finally made it back to the ship around 18:00 and Mom had escaped from the room. I found her wandering around the ship. We worked on packing a little before dinner. That is such a monumental task when you’ve been gone this long. We decided to have dinner at the casual Terrace restaurant for our last evening and we had Margaret join us.
It was a bittersweet dinner. It wasn’t just our last dinner on the cruise, but it is nearing the end of our trip. We enjoyed dinner as much as ever.
I will miss my buddy who makes the pasta for us each night. He has been wonderful! The chef came over and gave us his recipe for the tomato sauce that is out of this world (Saint Benedicto tomatoes!). We then went to the Upper Hall for our last evening of live music. They played many of the favorites and ended with “Time to Say Goodbye”. We said our goodbyes and went back to get things ready. We were packed and had our bags out by 22:15. We called it an early evening as we had to get up early in the morning.

I didn't blog about yesterday because we stayed on ship all day and then I had really bad motion sickness, again. I am not sure what is bringing it on all of a sudden, but I have missed 2 wonderful dinners thanks to it! This morning we anchored off of Delos, an uninhabited island which is an open air archaeological site. Mom stayed on the ship. I didn't do a guided tour, but decided to wander around on my own. The island used to be the political center of Greece 4-5000 years ago. There are of course lots of temples, especially to Apollo. The island was inhabited over thousands of years so there is a definite evolution to the sculpture and frescos. There are beautiful mosaics which are on display in the museum. We were only in Delos for the morning and set said at noon. I was back on ship by 11:30 and went to soak in some of the sun. It's wonderful how warm it is here, but the sun doesn't burn you. Mom stayed out of the sun as she was still very pink from yesterday.
We arrived in Mykonos only about an hour after leaving Delos. I let the crowds go on into the island and waited for a later tender. The island is eerily quiet as it is the end of the tourist season. The shops only open when ships are in harbor. The buildings are typical of those in Greece - white with blue shutters. Very picturesque. I am sitting by the water typing this and using some "found" wifi. I doubt that it will be enough to load any photos, but thought I would write a note. We sail for Piraeus tonight (96 nautical miles) and we disembark in the morning. We will make our way into Athens for a day or two and then fly home on Monday. It's hard to believe the month is almost gone. Happy Halloween to everyone!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Wednesday - Santorini

Day 26 – Santorini
This morning came extra early thanks to us losing an hour overnight. We are back to being 6 hours off of EST. We had our breakfast in the room and had to be at the designated meeting location by 7:45. We took our tender over to shore. The island is magnificent. It’s hard to believe how it was actually formed. After our short tender to the island, we boarded a motor coach for the trip to Oia (pronounced Eia) which is on the far end of the island. We basically drove back and forth around hairpin turns until we reached the top. These drivers must have nerves of steel.
Santorini is composed of 3 islands – Thira, the main island, Thirasia, and Asporonisi. The island was once much larger but in 1450 BC the volcano called Strongyle erupted and caused the middle of the island to sink, thus creating the caldera where our ship was anchored.

Our first stop was the town of Oia. It has a population of only about 1,500 people and yet it has 50 churches, as you can guess, mostly Greek Orthodox. The town is very cute, but with 4 ships anchored and about 25 tour buses you can only imagine that the narrow streets were almost impassable. There were numerous steps and a tremendous incline for Mom to navigate. We only had an hour to take photos and to shop, but there really wasn’t time. I would like to have spent more time there.

Next we went back towards the direction we came from and started climbing again. We were on our way to Mount Profitis which Is the highest point on the island, 550 meters high and home to 4 monks in a monastery. Monks were home, but we did get a sweeping view of the island below us. We could see the “cupcake island” named for its white strata at the top which looks like icing. It was here that we got our first glimpse of the grapevines that cover 60 percent of the island. We had not noticed them before as they looked like low shrubs on the ground. Since Santorini is so arid and windy they have to cultivate them in a way that suitable for this climate. They get their moisture from the humidity in the air. Most of the island is pumice which also absorbs any moisture in the air and provides it to the vines. Due to the wind, the vines are wrapped in a basket type manner with the grapes towards the middle in order to protect them. It is really fascinating. I did find some random vines which still had the grapes in the middle, though they were dried up almost like raisins. I took them back to the bus, where Mom was waiting (she did not want to get out at this stop due to the heights), and she promptly tasted one of them! She said it was very sweet and tasted like a raisin. Go figure!

We were then off to the Antoni Winery which was only a short drive from the scenic outlook point. Here we were greeted by the owner, Kostos Antoni who took us down for a brief overview of the winery. This is the oldest winery in the Cycladic Islands. We were taken out onto the terrace where we tried samples of 3 wines – a white, red, and late harvest along with bread, cheese, grape leaves stuffed with rice, and fresh tomatoes. We enjoyed the food and wine and of course the gorgeous views.

After we’d had our fill it was again back to the coach to take us to Fira, the capital. We had a pretty tough walk from the bus up to the actual street. We ended up just sitting for a while and taking it all in. It was about 13:00 and we hadn’t had lunch, so we decided to try a restaurant recommended by our guide. It was called Ampelos, a very traditional Greek taverna. Mom had not been feeling the greatest, so she opted for the soup, but I went for the full blown Greek lunch of chicken Souvlaki, and wow was it great. Mom tried a piece or two and had to agree.

Lunch was a leisurely one, and now it was time to walk around the town. There must have been a hundred jewelry stores selling everything from gold to sapphires of every color. We bought a couple of items, but were primarily concerned with getting toward the cable car that would take us back down to the port. It was either the cable car, 538 stairs, or a donkey ride – we were opting for the cable car! Once we reached the embarkation point we realized how far down we had to go, and in only 2 minutes time! There were 5 cars, ours had 5 people in it. It is literally almost a straight down trip. I have video of it, coming soon! After safely reaching the bottom, we carefully got out and walked down more stairs to the dock. I think we must have navigated over 200 stairs today alone. I am truly amazed at Mom’s ability to get around on this difficult terrain. We boarded the “bobbing” tender and waited while they filled it like a can of sardines. The ride to the ship was not a long one, thank goodness!

Once back on board we went directly to our stateroom and collapsed!

It has been an amazing, but tiring day. I did go up on the top deck to take some photos as the sun set on Thira (the name for the main island of Santorini). We ended up cancelling our dinner reservation in Toscana as neither one of us is up for it tonight. Maybe tomorrow… We did get to talk to Dad and Hunter while we were in port. It is now 18:00 and we are getting ready to pull up anchor and sail for Rhodes. Hopefully the weather will hold and we can enjoy a day in the sun. I may head into town, but I think Mom is ship-bound for the rest of the trip! Today was such a wonderful day.

Tuesday - At Sea

Day 25 – At Sea
Today Mom awakened earlier than usual and was taking in the morning views of the sea. I woke up shortly thereafter and asked what time it was and she said 8:15, only 30 minutes until breakfast was to be delivered. It was a good thing because I was hungry! We were doing a few things around the room when she realized it was in fact only 7:30, so we had over an hour until breakfast. We called Bogdan and asked if we could go ahead and get our breakfast sent up. He was happy to oblige. He arrived very shortly with our food and some champagne – what a way to start the morning! We had a lovely breakfast, but decided we were a bit tired, so we pulled a “Dad” and had an after breakfast nap! Next thing we knew it was 11:00! The sun was shining and we headed out to the pool deck. Obviously everyone on board had the same idea. We had to opt for lounges in the shade at first until some opened up in the sun. By noon we were well on our way to sunbathing.
The sun seemed later than the actual hour and in fact sunset was at 16:35, the earliest I’ve ever seen it set. We did go in around 16:00 for tea since we had only snacked in the afternoon on a piece of pizza and a pineapple milkshake – the lunch of champions! Tea was nice, but again more crowded than usual. After tea we came back to our stateroom and it was already dark out. It was still hours until dinner, so we opted to watch a movie. Our evening canapés arrived and we finished the movie in time for dinner. I guess we have had too many 5-course dinners as we are now opting for the casual Terrace restaurant onboard. Here we can have our nightly sushi and graze for the rest of our meal. We went to the Upper Hall to hear the string quartet and our friend Margaret joined us after her dinner. We sat and chatted until 22:30. Margaret was going on to the show, but we had to go up, shower, and get ready for bed. We were going to lose an hour this evening and we had to get up early for our excursion on Santorini tomorrow. I think we are starting to tire out!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Monday - Valletta, Malta

Good Morning/Afternoon from Valetta, Malta and Happy Birthday Dad!!!! We arrived in Malta this morning around 7:30. We went out on the veranda to take in the sites and I opened my computer to do a little typing. I then realized that there was an internet signal – and yes, free wifi! I am the happiest person in the world right now. I am typing this while I am trying to upload photos to past posts. All of a sudden Dad came on line and it was only 3:14 am there. We were a little worried, but he had just heard something on the computer and came on in there. We talked on IM for a bit and then we called on Skype and sang Happy Birthday to him. It was great to talk to him again. I will see what I’m able to do on the internet here and then will probably go into town and/or lay out in the sun a bit. It’s just great to have calm seas, a sunny day, and wifi on my balcony!

So that excitement was short lived, I do have some wifi, but for some reason cannot upload pictures. I even went into town, with no luck. I think it may be something to do with the Blogger site. Today was an eventful day. After having breakfast in our room we decided to venture out. We got off of the ship and walked over to the shops and saw a bus stop where everyone had been waiting. After a few short moments a bus pulled up and we decided to hop on.
Mom even hit me with the cane and started running! The buses here are something else – I can’t wait to post the pictures and video. Evidently Malta is known for their buses. It took us all the way into the downtown area of Valletta.

There is a heavy British influence including driving on the left and they have the red telephone booths here. The language is a mix of Italian and Arabic, but everyone also speaks English. We spent a few hours walking around the town, and looking in various shops. They are known for their glass and their silver filigree work. The island is small, but almost every inch has something built on it. The walled fortifications are everywhere. We did a lot of walking and decided it was time to return to the ship. We had a wait a long time for the return bus, since they apparently do not hold to a schedule. The ride back included a near miss with a truck due to the streets being so narrow. Hey, what can you expect for 1 euro roundtrip! Once safely onboard we managed to make it up for a quick bite of lunch. I decided to go back in town to try and upload pictures, without success. We did manage to buy an additional suitcase for travelling back.

We are now sitting on the verandah watching the sun go down. Sunset is very early here, 17:31 today. We will soon be setting sail for Greece. Tomorrow we will be at sea all day and will arrive in Santorini on Wednesday. Tonight we have reservations in Toscana, their specialty Italian restaurant. We thought that was appropriate in order to celebrate Dad’s birthday.
We hope the weather is nice tomorrow so that we may spend it by the pool. The temperatures here are just perfect! Wish I could share the photos and video, but it will have to wait for another day. (That day has arrived!!!)

Taormina, Sicily

We woke up this morning to a dense fog which quickly turned into solid rain. We did have breakfast up on Deck 9, outside, but we quickly realized how rough the weather was. There were whitecaps on the Mediterranean, never a good sign, and the tenders were struggling to go ashore. It was then I decided not to head into Sicily. After breakfast we went up to Deck 10 where there is a gorgeous look out and we addressed postcards, a bunch of them. It's the first really rotten day we've had. However it was during this time that I began to turn green again. I guess it was the ship rocking and me trying to write. I ended up seasick again. I took the pills I bought on the QM2, and pretty much slept the rest of the day away. What else could you do with that kind of weather? We had dinner reservations at 18:30 in the Polo Grill with Margaret. Mom had to finally wake me up around 17:00 so I could start getting ready. Dinner was wonderful. I guess I felt better and the food up there is terrific. We had the fillet again and it was just as good as before and we had the truffle mashed potatoes to go with. They served us these orange and strawberry jelly squares that Mom fell in love with, so we asked our waiter if we could have the rest in a to go box, and of course he obliged. After dinner we went down and listened to the quartet and then went on into a show. There was a guy by the name of Chris Shafer who was performing a lot of Sinatra and some other oldies. We had left port by this time and you could tell we were on fairly rough seas. We headed back to our room and went to bed hoping for a better day on Monday.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Sorrento/Pompeii (Saturday)

Oh what a day! Today began with us getting up oh so early at 6:45. We managed to dress and go up to the Terrace for a light breakfast. After my tendering experience of yesterday, we didn’t want to eat too heavily. We went down to our meeting point and found Margaret, our new found travelling buddy. She took over since she has done an excursion every day since we left Rome. It was nice to have someone who knew the procedures. We had our boarding ticket and we were in Group 6. Later we realized there were 12 other groups that went to Pompeii from our ship. Once our number was called we headed down to board the tender. Mom handled it like a pro! We had to get on land and then take a shuttle to our awaiting bus. I swear I don’t know how people survive driving here. The shuttle ride was harrowing in itself. We then boarded a motor coach for the 35 minute trip to the site. The trip consisted of numerous hairpin turns and one lane streets that weren’t quite as wide as the bus. In fact, we had people passing us where there was no room and on hairpin turns. It was fun to see the open fish markets with the fresh catch all along the streets. The drive was beautiful even when I was cringing as vehicles passed us. We went around the Bay of Sorrento and the Bay of Napoli. Mount Vesuvius soon came into view.

We both agree that it seemed much smaller and less conical than expected, but nevertheless, still impressive. We arrived at the archaeological site and began the tour. The site is much more vast than we had thought, and the terrain much more difficult to navigate. This was by far the most difficult venture that Mom has tried this entire trip. I must say she couldn’t have done this three weeks ago, she has made great strides – literally.

It is hard to explain how this place feels. I walked around with my mouth hanging open half of the time. We were able to walk up and touch walls and columns that have been buried for almost 2000 years. The frescos are truly a sight to behold. The colors are so vibrant and the artistry quite refined.

We toured the “spas”, a traditional home (which was very large with many rooms), the various shops, and a fish market. There was even a bakery complete with oven that is perfectly preserved!

We also had the opportunity to see the ash entombed bodies. One particular one on display was that of a slave, which you could tell due to the belt that was apparent, and you could see the bones of his skull and even his teeth. I have a picture which I will post at a later time so that you can appreciate the level of preservation.

Many of the streets were once tiled in marble, some of which still exist. Others are covered in very large flat stones, but still very uneven. You can see the grooves from where carts and chariots would have passed through the city streets. At the time of the eruption 15,000 peopled lived in Pompeii. I still need to look up how many survived. They are still excavating much of the site, so I look forward to coming back again and spending more time. By the end, Mom was about give out – that’s the only way I can put it.

The heat contributed to her exhaustion as it was in the 80s and we were in the direct sun. Once we were finished with the official tour, we had about 30 minutes of free time. Instead of walking around anymore we chose a cool spot in the shade and had a glass of lemon granite, a nice frozen refreshing drink. We made it back to the bus after about another ½ mile walk. It was time to go back to the town of Sorrento. We were taken to a place where they make various types of wood inlay furniture, boxes, trays, etc. It is really a fascinating and tedious craft. Mom was ready to go back to the ship as was Margaret – after all it was 13:30 and we had not eaten since breakfast. Margaret offered to help Mom back to the ship while I stayed in town. Here is my confession – they had a ton of internet spots, but I opted to shop. I do have a ton of photos to post, but I only had a few hours in Sorrento.
I ran into one of our waiters from the ship who was kind enough to help orient me to the area so that I would not get lost. I really appreciated that. I did buy some souvenirs and other mementos from the town. It was now getting on to 14:20 and I needed to catch the shuttle back to the tender. I think that portion was the most terrifying and I nearly suffered from motion sickness, again. I’m not used to all of this crazy driving. The tendering was painless, and I was back in our stateroom. I found Mom out on the verandah taking in the sites and the setting sun. The sister ship Insignia was also in port anchored nearby. After enjoying the sunset we headed up for dinner. Mom had napped and skipped lunch, and I was too busy shopping, so we were both famished. We went up to the casual restaurant where we met Margaret for dinner. We had some roasted oysters and a Caesar salad for appetizers and Mom had the yummy pasta while I had the stir fried lamb. We enjoyed dessert, some butter pecan gelato for Mom and a piece of chocolate mousse cake for me. We also had some hot tea. It was time for the string quartet up in the Hall, so we adjourned to listen to some music. As always, it was most enjoyable. We are both pretty exhausted, so we are now back in our room, probably heading to bed soon. We did receive notice that we “fall back” this evening. I think it’s earlier than in the States. We should be moving forward an hour in another day or two. It gets really confusing. Tomorrow we are in Taormina, Sicily. No excursions planned, so we’ll see what the day holds for us.